I Employ Methods

Steve Fuller. I’ve been browsing in some of my books, leafing through indexes, consulting bibliographies. Steve Fuller.

Here is a passage from Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s Fashionable Nonsense pp. 97-98:

Let us read it as a methodological principle for a sociologist of science who does not himself have the scientific competence to make an independent assessment of whether the experimental/observational data do in fact warrant the conclusions the scientific community has drawn from them. In such a situation, the sociologist will be understandably reluctant to say that ‘the scientific community under study came to conclusion X because X is the way the world really is’ – even if it is in fact the case that X is the way the world is and that is the reason the scientists came to believe it – because the sociologist has no independent grounds to believe that X is the way the world really is other than the fact that the scientific community under study came to believe it. Of course, the sensible conclusion to draw from this cul de sac is that sociologists of science ought not to study controversies on which they lack the competence to make an independent assessment of the facts, if there is no other (for example, historically later) scientific community on which they could justifiably rely for such an independent assessment. But it goes without saying that Latour would not enjoy this conclusion.

The passage is about Bruno Latour, you see; the ‘it’ in the opening words refers to Latour’s Third Rule of Method: ‘Since the settlement of a controversy is the cause of Nature’s representation, not the consequence, we can never use the outcome – Nature – to explain how and why a controversy has been settled.’ (Science in Action) They add a footnote to the observation that Latour would not enjoy this conclusion:

Nor would Steve Fuller, who asserts that ‘STS [Science and Technology Studies] practitioners employ methods that enable them to fathom both the “inner workings” and the “outer character” of science without having to be expert in the fields they study.’

Is that not hilarious? Oh do they! They employ methods, do they?! What kind of methods would those be then? Magic? Electro-mesmero-polycrypto salutations de mains? Pyramidal veridical saltations? Hyperosperical croptyflangial resonical fleering? No matter. No problem. We’ll just take their word for it. They say they have methods, so they must have methods, right? Of course. Because they wouldn’t say they have methods if they didn’t have methods – therefore they must have methods. Right? Right. So we’ll take their word for it. Same way, if some academics come tripping down the pike saying they have methods of resurrecting Shakespeare or turning back copies of the New York Times into gold necklaces, we’ll take their word for it, because why not? That’s what I call Sociology of Science.

Could be another sweatshirt slogan. ‘I employ methods.’

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